Private citizens, like journalists, community organizers, and others, can benefit from Census data, but may not have much experience finding and using it. What are their needs, and how can the Census Bureau make its data more accessible to them?
- Arjun Bisen
- Ayush Chakravarty
- Carissa Chen
- Daniel Drabik
- Amelia Johnston
Valerie Selo, a local nonprofit grant writer, grew frustrated trying to figure out which data the U.S. Census Bureau’s website contains. Having spent hours searching fruitlessly for data about the low income population in her community, she gave up and turned to Wikipedia.
Valerie is not alone. As Harvard students working to help the U.S. Census Bureau, we interviewed over twenty people that use the Census website. Most of them were frustrated with the confusing layout of census.gov, and many were also frustrated trying to understand what data Census actually has.
The U.S. Census Bureau holds among the largest collections of information on people and businesses in the country. In addition to the Decennial population survey, the Bureau also collects hundreds of valuable demographic and economic surveys each year, all for public use. By interviewing users, we found that the main changes the Census needs to make are:
- Explain what data the Census has: Users do not know what data the Census has;
- Simplify the search: Users like search tools but the current options are clunky and often deliver errors;
- Harmonize and integrate data: Datasets are not easily comparable;
- Focus on data presentation: Tables are not machine-readable and other visualization options should be created;
- One API with clear documentation: 50 APIs are impossible to navigate and the documentation is unclear;
- Integrate with Google Searches: Most people search for data through Google; and
- Explore niche feature: Some community advocates said they wanted a neighborhood dashboard and some researchers said that they wanted to easily identify a control group.